- Sarah Bixby Smith Smith, Wellesley Class of 1894
- Rebecca Lee Dorsey, Enrolled at Wellesley from 1878 to 1880
- Fanny Bixby Smith, Enrolled at Wellesley from 1898 to 1901
- Mary Meriam Coman, Wellesley Class of 1884
“With great delight each June, I left Massachusetts, beautiful to look upon, intolerable to live in, to go back to California’s comfortable southwest coast.”
By Lorine Parks, Wellesley Class of 1953 | June 30, 2021
Who was this California girl, Sarah Bixby, born in 1871, Class of 1894?
Her sister Anne, class of 1898, and cousin Fanny 1902, followed her to Wellesley. Her granddaughter Margaret Mahaney 1955, and great-granddaughter Marilyn Boyle 1986, are both living. Prim bios don’t do Sarah justice.
Sarah was heiress to the Bixby land holdings, a prominent writer and activist. Adobe Days, her memoir of growing up in southern California, considered a classic of the genre, is still available at Amazon. She married twice and divorced twice, once with scandal attached, both times to ministers named Smith. She wrote a feminist manifesto but had to publish it under her second husband’s name.
What was Los Angeles like in 1890, when Sarah left? And what was it like, the Wellesley that she found? And why Wellesley, for this California girl?
Please stay tuned for the 125th Anniversary Magazine where you can read Sarah's full story.
By Lorine Parks, Wellesley Class of 1953 | July 25, 2021
Enrolled at Wellesley College from 1878 to 1880 and graduated from Boston University School of Medicine in 1882, Rebecca Lee Dorsey was a woman of many firsts. She was the first to receive a scholarship. She was the first Wellesley graduate to become a physician. She was the first woman to practice in Los Angeles, going on to deliver Earl Warren, who later became the 30th governor of California as well as the 14th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. When she retired from medicine at her farm in Indio Valley, she also became a pioneer in date farming in California.
Rebecca came to California after a mentor had advised her that even though she had immense expertise, she would continually be fighting for acceptance in the east, while on the west coast, she would be a novel phenomenon.
In addition to having her own medical practice and working at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Los Angeles, she made house calls every Wednesday morning in a red-wheeled buggy pulled by a mare named Molly, heading west on Pico Boulevard toward Hollywood. Through binoculars, she searched over the orange trees for a flag flying upside-down, which signified that one of her patients needed her services.
Please stay tuned for the 125th Anniversary Magazine where you can read Rebecca's full story.
"I have three lines of work: bringing up my foster children, helping my neighbors (mostly Japanese farmers) and banging my head against the stone wall of militarism and conservatism that hems me in."
From a letter Fanny wrote her cousin Sarah Bixby Smith, Class of 1896, in 1930.
Fanny Bixby Spencer was the daughter of one of California's richest men, Jotham Bixby, also known as the Father of Long Beach. In 1898 Fanny left the family mansion, Jotham House, to join Wellesley’s class of 1902. To her, Wellesley was “ the Hub of the Universe.”
But after three years of study under passionate socialist thinkers such as Professors Katherine Coman and Emily Greene Balch, Fanny dropped out of Wellesley without graduating and came bac to California to put what she had learned into practice. She became a philanthropist, a playwright, and an advocate of radical causes including organized labor, women’s suffrage and halting child-labor abuse. She was also an anti-war activist who was one of the nation's earliest policewomen.
When Fanny received her policeman’s star in 1909, the Los Angeles Herald wrote “California, which gives an example to the rest of the country and to the world in many respects, is now demonstrating that when necessary a woman can become a policeman, or should we say policewoman?” As the Herald wrote then, and as is true today, “the example of a woman like Fannie Bixby is worth whole volumes of moralizing. With a few fearless missionaries like Miss Bixby actively at work, society would soon be reformed.”
Please stay tuned for the 125th Anniversary Magazine where you can read Fanny's full story.
By Lorine Anderson Parks, Wellesley Class of 1953
“On March 28, 1896, a group of Wellesley Alumnae in Southern California came together to create the Southern California Wellesley Club. Mrs. Mary Meridan (sic) Coman 1884 of Pasadena was the first President.”
The story of Mary Meriam Coman started 150 years ago, and so this account was built by following clues, using only a few remarkable facts as a guide.
Mary was born in 1861 in Philippopolis, Eastern Turkey, now Bulgaria to her missionary parents, William Ward Meriam and Susan Meriam. When she was 10 months old, the entire family was ambushed by bandits while returning from Constantinople where her father had just finished conference on growing Bulgarian nationalism. Her father was murdered, and, in shock from the incident, her mother Susan delivered still-born twins and died a few weeks later.
The orphaned Mary was brought to Cambridge, Massachusetts to live with her father’s brother John Newton Merriam (who sometimes spelled the name with two r’s). We have no details about her upbringing Cambridge, but we know that in 1880, she matriculated at nearby Wellesley College just after turning 19 years old.
While at Wellesley College, Mary was introduced to Charles Coman – the brother of a Wellesley College professor, Katherine Coman. They fell in love, and Mary and Charles were married in November the fall after she graduated in Charles' hometown of Licking Country, Ohio.
After their marriage, Charles and Mary Meriam Coman settled in Pasadena.
Fulfilling Wellesley’s directive to minister, not to be ministered unto, Mary was involved with many non-profit organizations. For 25 years she was the Editor of the “Southern California White Ribbon,” a publication of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). Mary’s interest in children and families extended to her work as a member of The Los Angeles County Public Welfare Commission. She also became president of the Pasadena Shakespeare Club, was active in the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA)and lectured on books and current events. Mary belonged to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Mary was also listed as a grower of Sunkist Oranges, which at the time was a citrus grower-owned cooperative in California and Arizona where growers sold fresh fruit as Sunkist–a name coined by ad men in 1909.
She stayed connected with the Southern California Wellesley Club and later the branch of the Los Angeles Wellesley Club until her death in 1950, just a year shy of her 90th birthday.
According to the Homestead Blog, in 1927 the Covina Argus announced that the Covina Women’s Club, with Mary serving as Club President, was putting out a cookbook. Here’s is Mary’s contribution, from the citrus section of the book:
Put in sauce pan: 2 T. butter, 4 T. sugar, 2 T. orange juice, 3 T. grated orange rind. Stir and cook slowly until thick. Set aside. Sift two C. of flour with 1 t. salt, 4 level t. B. P. and rub unto flour, 4 T. Butter. Mix with ¾ C. milk. Work to a smooth dough, put on slightly floured board, flatten to oblong strip ½ in. thick. Spread with the cooled orange filling, roll like jelly roll, cut in ¾ in. slices and bake 15 min. in a moderate to hot oven (370-400).